Putting dreams into action: Tom Heath and the birth of OC’s softball program

Coach Tom Heath shares his journey with the  Lady Eagles softball team. Photo by Allyson Hazelrigg.

Coach Tom Heath shares his journey with the Lady Eagles softball team. Photo by Allyson Hazelrigg.

Baseball coach, intramural director, fitness center director, softball coach — Tom Heath has worn many hats in his 44 years of work at Oklahoma Christian University.

In the spring of 2016, Heath was recognized for his service by joining his brother and former track and field coach Randy Heath in the Oklahoma Christian Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It was a great honor for him,” Randy said. “We both have been here a long time. People know us and hopefully we have accomplished some good things for this school.”

Heath was born Jan. 8, 1949 in Oklahoma City, OK. His family moved to Jacksonville, FL, during his high school days — an experience Randy said made the two brothers closer.

“When we moved to Florida, we did not know anyone so we became best friends,” Randy said. “We did a lot of things together. Then, he came here to school and we have been close ever since.”

Heath enrolled at Oklahoma Christian in the fall of 1967, and played both basketball and baseball for the Eagles. He was a member of the 1968 basketball team that reached the NAIA tournament, but, according to Randy, Heath had a baseball scholarship, so he decided to make a chance to focus more of his efforts on the field and not on the court.

“This was home,” Randy said. “This was coming back to where we grew up. I came back here and went to college and we roomed together my last two and his first two years at Oklahoma Christian.”

Heath met Susan Eggers of Sacramento, CA, during his time at Oklahoma Christian and the two married Aug. 15, 1970. Heath graduated from Oklahoma Christian in 1971 and earned a master’s degree from Central State University, now the University of Central Oklahoma, in 1973.

Heath became Baseball Head Coach Max Dobson’s assistant at Oklahoma Christian during the 1973 season, before becoming the interim head coach in 1981. Stepping aside from baseball to focus on his job as intramurals director through the 1980s, Heath and Eggers added two children to their family, Nathan, 36, and Kristin, 34.

According to Assistant Softball Coach Steve Gault, Heath coached his daughter’s youth softball team and, at a 10-year-old tournament in Jones, OK, the two met in what Gault said he calls the luckiest day of his life.

“I was umpiring the last game of the night and it was his game,” Gault said. “He came up and asked me questions about the different pitchers in the tournament. He asked me, ‘That girl pitching against me. Who is she taking lessons from?’ Since I was umpiring, I did not want to tell him, but finally he got it out of me that I was her pitching coach. So, he asked me to come and start working with his pitchers.”

After campaigning for a fitness center in the early 1990s, Heath became the fitness center’s director along with his intramural duties. Softball, however, continued to be at the forefront of his mind, and in 1993, he proposed the creation of a softball program at Oklahoma Christian.

“He called me up one night to go eat,” Gault said. “He asked me, ‘Do you want to be my assistant, because they have okayed starting a program.’ I said, ‘You bet,’ and the two of us have been doing this ever since.”

The Lady Eagles took the original softball field, built and maintained by Heath, in 1995.

“We put in the sprinkler system,” Gault said. “We were out there wading in the mud, digging trenches, laying the sprinkler line and digging pipe holes. We did it all.”

In 1998, Heath and Gault were selected as the Regional Coaching Staff for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Southwestern Region by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and in 1999, Heath was named the Sooner Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. In 2014 and 2015, Tom received Central Region Coach of the Year honors from the National Christian College Athletic Association.

Associate Head Softball Coach Jessica Ruckman played softball for Tom from 2007 to 2010, before becoming the graduate assistant for the Lady Eagles in 2011. In 2014, Heath named her the associate head coach.

“It has been amazing to learn that his character and heart are the same in every aspect I have known him,” Ruckman said. “He took me under his wing and I have been lucky to learn so much about the game of softball from him.”

A year after the program began, Heath began imagining an improved facility for his softball team, and in 2012, he presented his dream to Oklahoma Christian alumni Ricky and Kelly Lawson. The two agreed to donate money to build the $3.9-million facility and in 2014, the Lady Eagles played their first game on Tom Heath Field at Lawson Plaza.

“He is a fighter, kind of a bulldog about getting things done,” Randy said. “He dreams things, but then he works hard to get them. I am really proud of everything he has accomplished, especially with the facility named after him. No one believed that could happen but it did. I think it is a real tribute to his dreaming of what could be and then following through with it.”

Statistics provided by the Oklahoma Christian University Sports Information office.

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